Dir: Woody Allen
Recently I had the privilege of attending the avant-premiere of Woody Allen’s new film Blue Jasmine. It was quite the experience to observe the red carpet and to have the cast and director address the audience before the screening, but in the end it was the film that left the biggest impression on me.
Blue Jasmine, loosely based on the plot of Tennesse Williams’ masterpiece A Streetcar Named Desire tells the story of Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown who has lost her husband and her wealthy Park Avenue lifestyle and is forced to move to San Francisco to stay with her estranged sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). The non-linear narrative provides the audience with unpredictable glimpses of the sisters’ past, and the film explores how the characters are doomed to be stuck in a rut of their own creation. Ginger repeats a pattern of dating angry men and following her divorce has found herself a new man fitting the pattern, Chili (Bobby Cannavale). Meanwhile Jasmine, claiming to want to make something of herself, self-medicates with pills and booze, and latches on to the first eligible man she encounters, Dwight (Peter Saarsgard). Ginger seems overly sympathetic towards her sister, which may be more of a sign of her weak character than genuine kindness. The result is a claustrophobic study of a very relevant topic: modern class struggle and the impact of the economic crash on both the one and the ninety-nine percent.
Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s best film in years. It is admirable that a director well into his seventies has been producing a film every year for over three decades, but even more so that he can still create something so fresh. His European tour of the past few years has been enjoyable but quite formulaic: Jasmine may compare San Francisco to the Mediterranean, Blue Jasmine however is an altogether different story. The film balances dramatic themes with comic relief, for instance when a drunk Jasmine tells her young nephews in great detail of her downfall and her husband’s affairs.
It seems no challenge for Woody Allen to assemble a great cast and Blue Jasmine is no exception. The supporting cast is excellent, and includes superb performances by Alec Baldwin, Louis C.K. and Saarsgard. The most notable secondary performance is that of Andrew Dice Clay as Ginger’s ex-husband Augie, who gives new depth to a character that Jasmine has dismissed as working class. Sally Hawkins in the role of Ginger contrasts Jasmine in a downplayed performance as the weaker, younger sister, who feels she is not worthy of much. Unfortunately she seems overshadowed by Cate Blanchett at times as a result. Blanchett’s brilliant performance is what makes Blue Jasmine one of the films of the year. She manages to maintain the audience’s sympathy from the beginning despite her narcissistic and cruel nature, and as the linear narrative unfolds, Blanchett’s performance shifts in concert with the audience’s view of Jasmine.
Blue Jasmine is one of the most intriguing films of the year. Blanchett’s performance is enough on its own to send audiences to the cinema, but the topical plot also strikes an evocative emotional chord; one that continues to resonate well after the credits have rolled.